Wi-Fi 6 could be the cause of all your problemsNovember 16, 2023
The introduction of Wi-Fi 6 has been a game-changer in terms of network capacity. But does it improve user experience? It's crucial for telecommunications professionals to understand that this advancement is not without its challenges. One significant issue is the increased latency variability, which can profoundly impact the user experience of everyday tasks, be it browsing, checking the weather forecast, streaming video or fetching stock quotes. Some applications, such as online gaming and video conferencing, are especially sensitive to latency.
How Wi-Fi 6 adds latency
Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, promises higher capacity, improved efficiency, and better performance in crowded areas. These enhancements are achieved through technologies like Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO). However, these technologies also introduce complexities in scheduling and data transmission, which can lead to more variable latency.
Latency is the time it takes for data to travel from source to destination, and it’s a crucial metric for real-time applications. In Wi-Fi 6, the introduction of OFDMA and MU-MIMO allows multiple users to share the channel simultaneously. While this increases efficiency, it also introduces variability in how data packets are queued and transmitted, potentially causing irregular latency.
Wi-Fi 6: The red is round-trip, and green and blue is upstream and downstream delays respectively.
Wi-Fi 4: The red is round-trip, and green and blue is upstream and downstream delays respectively.
As these measurements show, Wi-Fi 6 latency varies much more than that of its grandfather Wi-Fi 4. These measurements were taken on the 2.4 GHz spectrum in a busy office environment.
For applications like online gaming and video conferencing, consistent latency is key to a smooth experience. Variability in latency leads to issues like lag and out-of-sync audio and video. These problems rapidly degrade the user experience, leading to frustration and dissatisfaction.
So, are we stuck with worse latency now then??
No, not necessarily. The solution to this problem is for customers to demand better latency from their ISPs, and in turn, for ISPs to demand a higher bar from their vendors. Measure the delay, also under load, of access points before committing to purchasing (thousands of) them. It’s not impossible to optimise Wi-Fi 6 and 7 so that it provides better latency, but that will not happen without consumer pressure.
For a deeper understanding of the latest in network latency, join the Understanding Latency 2.0 webinar series from December 11 to 13. Cross-industry experts will explore topics like the impact of Wi-Fi 6 on latency and strategies for improvement. Get all the details and register at understandinglatency.com to be part of the conversation shaping the future of low-latency networking.